Categories
Politics

Kimberly Graham – A Voice For ‘Us’

Kimberly Graham

On Tuesday, March 17, Blog for Iowa conducted a telephone interview with U.S. Senate candidate Kimberly Graham. We had intended to do an in-person interview but in consideration of the coronavirus pandemic we maintained social distancing. Graham was thoughtful in her answers to our questions. The following portions of the interview are transcribed from an audio recording. Any mistakes are the author’s.

Blog for Iowa: Why are you in this race?

Kimberly Graham: It’s kind of a perfect storm of three different things. The first, like a lot of women running for office now-a-days, the first thing that made me start thinking about running was the 2016 election. I never had any intention or desire to run for office. It was not something I thought I could even do as a person from a working class background. But the 2016 election was very upsetting to me like it was to a lot of people. And that’s what initially started making me look into running for office myself.

At the time of that election my son was 17 years old. He’s now 20. I couldn’t keep just only voting. I felt like I needed to do something more and that I could do a better job than a lot of our current leaders. And so, I thought that it would be important for my son, and for the kids I’ve represented for the last 20 years and all of their families, for me to step up and run for office so that we would have what I kind of shorthand “have a regular person” running for office.

I think we need “us” to be representing “us.” When I say “us” I mean regular people who are not wealthy, not well connected, who struggle financially, who know what it’s like to try to make it in the United States of America where if we ever did, we no longer have equality of opportunity on a lot of levels.

So I would say the 2016 election, my son, and all of the kids I’ve represented and families I’ve represented for the the last 20 years as an attorney for kids, for abused kids, and for parents in juvenile court. And watching how we’ve been investing in those kids and families less and less and less and less.

BFIA: How does being an attorney prepare you for being a U.S. Senator?

GRAHAM: Yeah, well I think it really uniquely prepares me because I’ve literally had the job of standing up and fighting for vulnerable people for 20 years now. That to me is really, in a nutshell, that should be the job of the U.S. Senator to listen, listen, and listen again. Find out what it is that either your clients or constituents need, whether you’re being a lawyer, whether your being a senator. What is it they need to live lives of health and dignity?

And then you go whether they are a farmer, whether they are a single mom living in Des Moines, whether they are a rural person living in Harlan, you know, whatever they are doing in this state, what do they need? What are their needs to live lives of health and dignity?

And then I see it as my job to go to Washington, D.C. and either draft legislation that doesn’t exist, or co-sponsor legislation, or advocate for those positions, whatever it takes to respond and to help the people that I am charged with representing. Just like I’ve been doing for the last 20 years as an attorney for mostly, not always, but mostly for people in poverty.

So I have a pretty good idea of how we are not doing a very good job taking care of people that either are in poverty or at the lower edge of the middle class in this country because I see it and I work with those people every day.

BFIA: Why does that experience best qualify you among the five Democrats running for the office?

GRAHAM: I’m best qualified because I still to this day, am still doing this work. In other words, I’m seeing in real time what is happening out there. Meaning what it is that people need to lead these lives of health and dignity.

I think also as someone who has owned a solo practice law firm for all of these years, I also understand how incredibly difficult it is to make it as a small business owner. We know that especially in our rural communities here in Iowa, but also in our cities, too, there are a lot of small businesses that are providing a living for people, but just barely.

If we had things that other developed nations have and have had for many years, like universal child care, like paid parental leave, like universal health care.Just those things alone would transform what it is like to own a small business in this country.

It would really promote and support entrepreneurship in this country to an incredibly high level because we would actually be able to own a small business without, you know, half of our income maybe in some cases, even more than half, going out the door for say our medical insurance right off the top which makes it very difficult to be profitable or to be profitable and not to make it.

I also believe that because I spent three years studying the United States Constitution and I know what it says, and I know how to read laws, and read bills, and read and write legislation that that’s really important because the thing, the devil is in the details, it is. It’s really important that somebody who is going to be our U.S. Senator have the ability to read a law, to read a proposed bill and really hold it up to the light and turn it around and look at it this way and that way and from every angle and have an ability to understand what certain things in that bill may mean when you put that bill into action, when the bill is actually implemented.

I should add, too, that I really, really believe that it’s incredibly beneficial for us to have, for everyone to have, like some kind of voice in our representation. For everyone to have some kind of a voice and what I believe has happened over the last forty years or so is that those who really have a substantial voice at this point are the very wealthy and well-connected and/or corporations. And I mean large, huge corporations.

I’m not talking about a little incorporated business in some small town. I’m talking about these mega multinational corporations and there are I believe more lobbyists by far than there are representatives in congress at this point.

So my argument is, my assertion is, that business is more than represented, in fact, I would say they are over-represented. What we do not have, in enough of a critical mass, what we don’t have a large enough number of, are people in congress who come from a public service background like I do. People that have a demonstrated history of trying to help people, as clichéd and eye-rolling as that may sound to some people. I’m doing the kind of law I do for the most part the kind of law that I’ve done in my career because I want to help people to have better lives.

I want to really be clear. It is not that businesses and corporations are the enemy. We need corporations. We need jobs. We need big business. We need small business. We need medium business. We need social workers. We need teachers. We need nurses. We need all of us. I believe the problem has become that only those multinational corporations for the most part are really being represented in congress. That’s not okay.

Senator Tom Harkin started his career at Iowa legal aid, and so did I. I really believe that most people had quite a lot of respect for Tom Harkin. Tom Harkin, it appears clear to me anyway, became a congressman and then a United States Senator because he wanted to help people. He stood up for unions. He stood up for human rights the world over. He stood up for children. He stood up for people with disabilities. That’s important. That is the kind of U.S. Senator that I intend to be.

BFIA: Let’s talk about Joni Ernst. Why is this senate seat flippable this cycle?

GRAHAM: To me there are several indications that it is flippable. The first one and probably the most obvious is that her polling numbers continue to drop like a stone. I mean, they just continue to drop, drop, drop, pretty much every time there is a new poll she is less popular.

Number two is if we look at the presidential election, the caucuses here in Iowa, what we see, at least among the Democrats is that the ideas of Senator Warren and Senator Sanders, if you add their polling numbers together for the last year and a half in Iowa, that is the majority, at least of Democrats. I can’t speak to the majority of all Iowans; although it is now, I believe the most recent polling indicates the majority of all Iowans believe we should have some kind of universal health care and that pharmaceuticals like insulin, people shouldn’t be allowed to charge what they are charging for insulin and those kinds of ideas. To me, there seems to be a clear shift that people are very tired of politics as usual and I believe that that’s part of how Senator Ernst got elected. Because people were getting tired of politics as usual and what was her campaign slogan?

BFIA: She was going to make ‘em squeal.

GRAHAM: Correct. To me that slogan says, “I’m going to go root out that corruption. It is not going to be politics as usual. I’m going to get in there, and I’m going to be different, and I’m not going to kowtow to powerful special interests.” That’s what that said. I believe that’s why she won by a pretty hefty margin. There’s other reasons I think she won but that’s the main one.

I also believe that’s the main reason President Trump won Iowa is because people are sick and tired, regular working people who are working all these jobs, don’t have health insurance, are barely getting by and hanging on by their fingernails if they happen to be at least nominally middle class, they are still hanging on by their fingernails in a lot of cases because of the high cost of medical stuff, and college, and day care, and all the other stuff. They are tired of it. We’re tired of it. We’re tired of working so, so hard.

We are some of the hardest working people on the planet. Americans are very productive. We work hard but we are not seeing the rewards of that. We are falling further and further behind financially. More of us are hurting financially. We may have jobs, but yeah, we have two jobs because we can’t make it on one. There’s all the gig economy. We have fewer and fewer unions, fewer and fewer union jobs that come with benefits and come with a pension and all of that.

Over these past forty years we’ve just seen this erosion of opportunity and people are sick of it. I think that that is what left us unfortunately vulnerable to a really, really skilled and good con man.

I don’t really blame the person who got conned if they got conned by a skilled con man. I blame the con man. What did he say? He went all around Iowa, including the Keokuk area. He stood on the floor of the, I think it was, the Siemens factory and said “This factory is not leaving here. These jobs are not leaving here. I will keep these jobs in America.” Those jobs are gone, they are gone now. He went around and promised people and sold people a bill of goods. People wanted to hear that because they don’t want their jobs leaving already economically depressed areas. Here’s this guy that they see as a successful businessman. You know, oh, Trump he’s a multi-millionaire… He has this persona that he’s such a great businessman and I think a lot of people mistakenly thought and believes he was going to come in here and was also going to make ‘em squeal.

(Editor’s note: The interview covered additional topics, including Graham’s approach to the climate crisis. For more information about her views on issues, click here).

Categories
Social Commentary

Living with the Coronavirus

Lettuce in the greenhouse.

Estimates of how long the coronavirus pandemic will last vary from a couple of weeks to several months. The best guess is we’ll have a better idea once the number of contagious incidents reaches its peak.

Two and a half months after the virus emerged in China the government is beginning to lift the draconian measures implemented in its wake. Public health officials there remain vigilant for a second or third wave of the disease. The pandemic is not over.

In the U.S. we continue to be on the upward slope of the curve, and in our county the case count ticks upward with no indication we have peaked. News media explain we are a week to ten days behind Italy as the viral course continues to develop.

A friend in town displayed symptoms and was tested. He waits for the test results at home in self-quarantine and shut down public access to his place of business for two weeks. The pandemic is pretty close to home and we are just getting started.

The continued shortage of testing obfuscates the path of the vector. If we were testing more, one believes there would be more reported cases. We aren’t so we don’t know.

Given the expectation of a several month pandemic it’s hard to decide what to do about work at the home, farm and auto supply store. They are okay with people taking off work for any illness, but at some point they will need me to show up. They don’t seem aware of the idea that employees might be infected by going to work. They’ve had no discussion about closing the retail store and for the time being, I want to keep the job. I’ll probably go in today after calling off yesterday, and try to maintain a distance from co-workers and customers. We’ll see how that goes.

I don’t know if the coronavirus will be personally life-changing. My outlook is we can avoid infection, although I’m not sure how I came to that conclusion. It’s likely positive thinking of which the coronavirus is unaware. During my sick day yesterday I considered whether this pandemic would precipitate changes that are coming in my life anyway: leaving the regular job, staying home more, and conserving our income. As it runs its course I’ll consider that more. For now we’re sustaining our lives in a pandemic-stricken world and doing our best to survive and thrive.

Categories
Social Commentary

Wheels Coming Off

Two Wagon Loads of Onions

This weekend was unsettling beginning with Friday’s news that OPEC couldn’t reach consensus on reducing crude oil supply. Russia dissented. In response, Saudi Arabia decided to slash prices and increase production by as many as 2 million barrels per day.

“This OPEC summit was among the worst meetings I have ever seen during the history of this organization,” Bijan Zanegneh, Iranian petroleum minister told reporters on Friday.

Oil prices fell so far, one could purchase two barrels of crude for less than the cost of a liter of Purell hand sanitizer in Manhattan.

Futures trading in the 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield dipped below 0.50 percent for the first time ever last night. It should be hella day when markets open this morning. One aspect of our being in debt is we own no stocks and therefore are insulated from daily market peaks and valleys, but still…

Speaking of hand sanitizer, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds announced last night the first three cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed in Iowa. The individuals live in our county seat and have been quarantined at home. I’m weighing whether or not to attend meetings in town this evening because of it. National leadership on identifying the emerging risks of coronavirus, and doing something to prevent a national crisis over the pandemic, has been absent. Our local warehouse club was rationing basic food stuffs, even though few Iowans seem likely to starve if they have to stay home for a while to avoid contact with the disease.

Also Sunday night, Yonhap News Agency of South Korea reported North Korea launched three projectiles toward the East Sea. The projectiles are believed to be missiles being developed as a result of stalled talks over denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. The U.S. is not leading efforts to rid the north of nuclear weapons, but rather seeking to distract us from our own nuclear complex modernization and testing of new nuclear weapons. American leadership is absent in compliance with Article 6 of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Changes announced this weekend include the orchard where I worked the last seven seasons. On Friday they posted job openings for my manager and the bakery manager, who have worked there since before the current owners bought it in 2009. There have been discussions about extending the season to include other activities and produce for a couple of years. It looks like plans are coming to fruition (yes, that’s an apple joke), which means changes in staffing to accommodate new demands.

We’ll see if I’m invited back for the fall season, and if I am, whether I would work for a new manager in a new retail environment. Our personal situation has changed since 2013 when I first applied for a job there. The changes at the orchard are evidence of the shifting sand of a small business trying to survive in a competitive marketplace. If the job ceases to be fun, I won’t return.

Why all this now? It may be the beginning of all the wheels coming off the wagon of society. Whatever the causes, it is going to be a rough ride at least through this year, and maybe for a lot longer.

When I returned from my Sunday shift at the farm I walked the garden. It’s still pretty barren, garlic hasn’t begun to emerge. The plot where I sowed lettuce was dry with a few deer footprints in it. I went to bed worried about late winter drought. When I woke there was rain against the bedroom window. Welcome relief from the dry spell and a sign that all hope is not lost.

Categories
Politics

Back to the Senate

Elizabeth Warren at the Iowa Memorial Union, Iowa City, Iowa, Dec. 2, 2019.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren suspended her campaign to become the Democratic nominee for president yesterday.

I will support the party’s nominee as he emerges from the summer convention. It chokes me up a bit to use the pronoun “he,” but I will support him.

More to the point, it became tiring to say the same thing over and over again during the last six months: “If Democrats don’t nominate a woman for president, we’ll never have a female president.”

While the statement is true — I don’t see Republicans nominating a women this cycle or for the foreseeable future — inherent misogyny among women and men prevented any of the highly skilled and credentialed female U.S. Senators from garnering the nomination.

To refresh our memories, they were (in the order in which they dropped out) Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren. I had issues with each of them, and that’s to be expected. The good news is they all returned to the senate, and their senate seats were never in jeopardy in their current terms.

There were and are good reasons to consider the men in the race for the presidential nomination. There are also reasons why two men advanced beyond Super Tuesday unrelated to misogyny. There is something there though. An attitude, belief, outlook, or whatever, that informed people this cycle was not a woman’s turn to get the nomination. Maybe I have some of that inside me and just can’t recognize it.

So we go on.

Here’s the email Warren sent to me and countless others yesterday morning. I felt sad as I read this in the break room at the home, farm and auto supply store. I was sad enough to recognize the feeling. Elizabeth Warren won’t be president in 2020, or probably ever. It is reassuring she will be in the U.S. Senate and has never stopped working for us.

Paul,

I’m going to start with the news. I wanted you to hear it straight from me: today, I’m suspending our campaign for president.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you have poured into this campaign.

I know that when we set out, this was not the news you ever wanted to hear. It is not the news I ever wanted to share. But I refuse to let disappointment blind me — or you — to what we’ve accomplished. We didn’t reach our goal, but what we have done together — what you have done — has made a lasting difference. It’s not the scale of the difference we wanted to make, but it matters — and the changes will have ripples for years to come.

What we have done — and the ideas we have launched into the world, the way we have fought this fight, the relationships we have built — will carry through for the rest of this election, and the one after that, and the one after that.

So think about it:

We have shown that it is possible to build a grassroots movement that is accountable to supporters and activists and not to wealthy donors — and to do it fast enough for a first-time candidate to build a viable campaign. Never again can anyone say that the only way that a newcomer can get a chance to be a plausible candidate is to take money from corporate executives and billionaires. That’s done.

We have shown that it is possible to inspire people with big ideas, possible to call out what’s wrong and to lay out a path to make this country live up to its promise.

We have shown that race and justice — economic justice, social justice, environmental justice, criminal justice — are not an afterthought, but are at the heart of everything that we do.

We have shown that a woman can stand up, hold her ground, and stay true to herself — no matter what.

We have shown that we can build plans in collaboration with the people who are most affected.

This campaign became something special, and it wasn’t because of me. It was because of you. I am so proud of how you fought this fight alongside me: you fought it with empathy and kindness and generosity — and of course, with enormous passion and grit.

Some of you may remember that long before I got into electoral politics, I was asked if I would accept a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was weak and toothless. And I replied that my first choice was a consumer agency that could get real stuff done, and my second choice was no agency and lots of blood and teeth left on the floor. In this campaign, we have been willing to fight, and, when necessary, we left plenty of blood and teeth on the floor. I can think of one billionaire who has been denied the chance to buy this election.

And we did all of this without selling access for money. Together, you and 1,250,000 people gave more than $112 million dollars to support this campaign. And we did it without selling one minute of my time to the highest bidder. People said that would be impossible. But you did that.

Together, we built a grassroots campaign that had some of the most ambitious organizing targets ever — and then we turned around and surpassed them.

Our staff and volunteers on the ground knocked on over 22 million doors across the country. We made 20 million phone calls and sent more than 42 million texts to voters. That’s truly astonishing. It is.

We also advocated for fixing our rigged system in a way that will make it work better for everyone.

A year ago, people weren’t talking about a two-cent wealth tax, Universal Child Care, cancelling student loan debt for 43 million Americans while reducing the racial wealth gap, breaking up big tech, or expanding Social Security. And now they are. And because we did the work of building broad support for all of those ideas across this country, these changes could actually be implemented by the next president.

A year ago, people weren’t talking about corruption, and they still aren’t talking about it enough — but we’ve moved the needle, and a hunk of our anti-corruption plan is already embedded in a House bill that is ready to go when we get a Democratic Senate.

And we also did it by having fun and by staying true to ourselves. We ran from the heart. We ran on our values. We ran on treating everyone with respect and dignity. But it was so much more. Four-hour selfie lines and pinky promises with little girls. A wedding at one of our town halls. And we were joyful and positive through all of it. We ran a campaign not to put people down, but to lift them up — and I loved pretty much every minute of it.

I may not be in the race for president in 2020, but this fight — our fight — is not over. And our place in this fight has not ended.

Because for every young person who is drowning in student debt, for every family struggling to pay the bills on two incomes, for every mom worried about paying for prescriptions or putting food on the table, this fight goes on.

For every immigrant and African American and Muslim and Jewish person and Latinx and transwoman who sees the rise in attacks on people who look or sound or worship like them, this fight goes on.

For every person alarmed by the speed with which climate change is bearing down upon us, this fight goes on.

And for every American who desperately wants to see our nation healed and some decency and honor restored to our government, this fight goes on.

When I voted on Tuesday at the elementary school down the street, a mom came up to me. She said she has two small children, and they have a nightly ritual. After the kids have brushed teeth and read books and gotten that last sip of water and done all the other bedtime routines, they do one last thing before the two little ones go to sleep: Mama leans over them and whispers, “Dream big.” And the children together reply, “Fight hard.”

So if you leave with only one thing, it must be this: Choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough — and they will — you will know that there is only option ahead of you: nevertheless, you must persist.

You should be so proud of what we’ve done together — what you have done over this past year.

Our work continues, the fight goes on, and big dreams never die.

Thanks for being a part of this,

Elizabeth

Categories
Politics

Freak Out Monday by the Lake

With Elizabeth Warren at the Iowa Memorial Union, Iowa City, Iowa.

I’ve been saying for some time that Super Tuesday — the day 14 states, American Samoa, and Democrats Abroad hold presidential primary elections and caucuses — is the decider for who is viable and who is not in the Democratic presidential primary race.

After mixed results in four early states, the field is down to four main contenders: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. After today’s voting we’ll see if Bloomberg and Warren remain viable. We’ll see if Bloomberg’s late entry coupled with spending hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money will get him in the game. We’ll also see if Warren’s ground game of political organizers is relevant to our modern politics. The expectation from national media and polling is the race will sort into a confrontation between so-called establishment or moderate Democrats backing Joe Biden, and the non-Democrat progressive Bernie Sanders. I suppose readers know all of that by 4:20 a.m. on Super Tuesday when I’m writing this. I hope there is a clear winner after votes are tabulated.

My plan for Monday did not include dealing with friends and neighbors freaking out over the possibility of a Sanders nomination. What I’m hearing in Big Grove Township is mostly fear that if nominated, Sanders would lose the general election, that he wouldn’t gain the support needed to prevail. Folks were urging support for Joe Biden, who is an equally flawed candidate. My chips were all on the table long before yesterday. The Iowa Caucuses are over and I stood with Elizabeth Warren with no regrets. I made another financial contribution to Warren’s campaign last night and drank a shot of whisky over ice cubes made from the Silurian Aquifer. What a day!

If we review who’s left in the Democratic primary, the top tier is comprised of septuagenarians I ruled out early in the process. I felt we needed new faces to breathe fresh air into the meandering beast the Democratic Party had become. Regretfully, none of the new faces who entered the race had staying power. Some of them, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O’Rourke, rallied around Biden last night in Dallas, Texas.

In addition to it being freak out Monday by the lake, a number of high profile Biden endorsements were released in advance of today’s voting, including Harry Reid, Barbara Boxer and Susan Rice. Biden is winning the endorsement game with eight current U.S. Senators, 21 former senators, and more than 50 current U.S. Representatives. A question we have to ask ourselves is how much do endorsements matter in 2020? They certainly contributed to the freak out phenomenon going on around here.

When asked, my friends said they would support and work for whoever is the Democratic nominee at the national convention this summer. If it’s Biden or Sanders, they are concerned about losing the general election. Nontheless, to a person they will support our nominee. I don’t know if I talked any of them off the ceiling yesterday because this freak out is not about reason or logic.

What was disappointing was the statement one person made that this was not the year for a woman to win the presidency. If not now, then when, I asked. If we don’t nominate a female for president, there will never be a female president. Their arguments, based on fear of losing the general election, did not hold water.

Maybe Trump was right to focus on Biden in the first place. If that’s who we choose over reasonable and serious objections, Republicans have a well developed plan to win against him. That’s not a case for nominating someone else, I’m just saying.

Today voters will decide who moves forward. It’s now or never for Bloomberg and Warren, assuming Sanders and Biden have reasonable showings. The worst that could happen is the electorate is not of a single mind about who should be the nominee. That would drag the process out for the rest of March when we could be consolidating around a candidate. That’s a flaw in Iowa going first: in 2016 and 2020 we did not produce a clear winner.

I’m ready to get beyond Super Tuesday as soon as the votes are counted. There’s a lot to be done in the coming months and we need to get after it. Hopefully the freak out will abate and we’ll know where we stand. Perhaps that’s too reasonable a wish in the new era of politics.

Categories
Environment Politics

Mining the Jordan Aquifer

State Senator Liz Mathis (L) and State Representative Molly Donahue at the Ely Public Library, Ely, Iowa. Feb. 29, 2020.

It should be no shocker that I attended a political event on Saturday. How could I miss it? It was six miles from our house.

State Senator Liz Mathis represents the 34th Senate District in the Iowa legislature. Alongside State Representative Molly Donahue, who represents House District 68, they hosted a legislative listening post at the Ely Public Library.

The closer one gets to Cedar Rapids, the more likely we are to encounter kolaches, a traditional semi-sweet roll originating in the Czech heritage of Iowa’s second largest city. Mathis pointed out the box of kolaches in the back of the meeting room soon after my arrival. About 16 people attended.

I was in graduate school in Iowa City when Mathis began her broadcast news career at KWWL at their then new Cedar Rapids bureau. She has been a broadcast anchor, television producer, college professor, and is currently an executive at the non-profit organization Four Oaks Family and Children Services. Donahue has been a teacher for 30 years with a current focus on secondary students in special education or those who have behavior disorders that can affect their learning. They were well qualified to discuss Iowa’s mental health system, school safety, the K-12 education budget, the school bus driver shortage, and related topics. I listened and tried to learn.

News on Friday was Pattison Sand Company of Clayton sought to extract 34 million gallons of water per year over a ten-year period from the Jordan Aquifer, according to Perry Beeman of Iowa Capitol Dispatch. The water would be shipped by rail to arid regions in the American west, potentially to New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona or California. The Jordan Aquifer is also the source of municipal water for the city of Marion which lies within Mathis’ senate district.

Earlier this month Pattison proposed to extract 2 billion gallons per year from the Jordan Aquifer using wells they drilled to support their frack sand mining operation. This proposal was rejected by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The problem with tapping the Jordan Aquifer is it is prehistoric water, in other words, it has been there a long time. The aquifer does not recharge at the same rate as the Silurian Aquifer which lies on top of it. Once the Jordan Aquifer is drained, the water will be gone and communities that currently rely upon it could be left without a reliable water source.

The climate crisis is evident in the American west. Demand for water exceeds the region’s capacity to produce it through rainfall, snow melt, and underground aquifers. Something’s got to give for people who settled there to survive. Mining and shipping water from Eastern Iowa is not a good idea because what may be abundant to meet our current needs will be diminished by the extraction proposed by Pattison and others. It is easy to see how a discussion over water rights could escalate into regional conflict over this basic human need.

If we look at history, humans have continued to exploit natural resources until they are gone, in many cases leading to the collapse of societies. Our brains are not wired to perceive the threat shipping billions of gallons of water from Iowa to the west could have. We have to pay attention, and the role of government is to look out for the common good.

It is hard to image an overall plan to resolve the climate crisis at its root causes. Further exploitation of natural resources doesn’t solve anything and could potentially make matters worse. At least we were discussing it and in doing so raising awareness on a sunny morning in Ely over kolaches.

Categories
Politics

Theresa Greenfield – Jobs To Get Done

Theresa Greenfield

On Saturday, Feb. 22, I met with U.S. Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield at a coffee shop in Coralville, immediately after her appearance at the Linn County Phoenix Club. She arrived on time and was thoughtful in her answers to my questions. She got the job done. The following interview is transcribed from an audio recording. Any mistakes are the author’s. Greenfield began with an opening statement.

THERESA GREENFIELD: I worked my entire career in small business from being a community planner for about fourteen years with neighborhood groups, planning commissions and city councils — helping in that local government office.

I worked for a civil engineering company and was a consultant for either a township that didn’t have staff, or maybe a city that had extra projects they just didn’t have enough staff to get that work done. I loved it.

From there I went into home building and eventually became the president of a small home building company in Iowa. That was fun through the recession, until it wasn’t any more fun. We sold the assets at the end of 2011.

I became unemployed like a lot of people in the recession, then hired on with a commercial real estate company. I most recently was their president. I recently resigned to focus full time on this U.S. Senate race.

I’m pretty excited we just kicked off two things, beginning with our “Hear it from the heartland tour.”

We have been intentional about going places. The number one topic I hear about is health care. We began at Boone County Hospital which is an independent hospital, not part of a big system. We just learned a lot about their challenges, the cool things they are doing too, and how they are integrated into their community. Health care is the number one issue that I hear about and they just reiterated all of that.

We also then just put out the first of what I call our “jobs to get done” agenda. Because I grew up on a farm, and that’s what my parents always said, “No boy jobs, no girl jobs, just jobs to get done.” I think we need to think about some of this work in those kinds of terms.

The first job that needs to get done, for me kind of the root of what’s wrong with Washington and the difference between Senator Ernst and myself, is big money in politics. Our first job to get done is end political corruption and end dark money in politics. Bring some transparency to it, end Citizens United, stop the revolving door of lobbyists. If you’re a senator you can’t sit on a corporate board at the same time. It might seem like natural things that we should be doing as pubic servants, but codify it and try to bring an end to that.

BLOG FOR IOWA: How do you view your prospects for beating Joni Ernst?

GREENFIELD: I view them as really good.

BFIA: Why is that?

GREENFIELD: First off, I grew up rural and I think Iowans want Washington to work like our home towns work. You know, we come together and get something done. There’s a lot of frustration.

Senator Ernst ran to be independent, and different, and she was going to make ‘em squeal, and she’s just taken a real hard turn to the right and votes 90-plus percent of the time with Mitch McConnell and party leaders, really leaving Iowans behind on issues that we care about whether you have an R or a D behind your name, or an N, or you don’t vote.

Things like health care. Voting to end and take away your protections for preexisting conditions. Prescription drug costs haven’t come down. Voting to end the ACA which by the way, allowed Medicaid expansion, which we did here in the state… and that has kept so many of our hospital lights on.

Now I grew up rural and with my parents, we got caught up in the farm crisis. My parents had to sell their hogs and their crop dusting business and never farm again. After that the school closed, grocery store closed, these are stories that we hear around the Midwest, and they drive 20-30 minutes to a grocery store, faith community, hospital, health care. If their little hospital closes they’re going to be going 50 miles, who knows? Or they won’t get the health care they need. These are real issues. You need health care? It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat.

BFIA: Would you say that’s your sharpest contrast with Ernst, on health care? I mean would you really make a difference?

GREENFIELD: Yeah. I will go back to the reason about winning. Her favorable rating is now down to about 39 percent in the state. So for me that just says Iowans aren’t loyal to her, and they are going to take a look at a good, strong Democratic candidate. That tells me Iowans are very open and this race is wide open. She does not have a lock on the race.

You know our differences definitely will (make a difference). I’m a “get ‘er done” person who has gotten things done. I want to focus on the things that most Iowans worry about. Health care is number one. Education. Folks worry about the economy and jobs here in Iowa. With net farm income being down 75 percent since 2013, I’ll tell you what, as I travel around this state, people have concerns. And you put on top of that the 85 ethanol wavers. Our farm economy, our manufacturing, our main street folks are very worried and I hear about that.

BFIA: What is your reaction to the president’s recent announcement that he would create additional subsidies for farmers hurt by trade policy? What are you hearing on the campaign trail from farmers who may have gotten some of that money?

GREENFIELD: Farmers I talk to want their markets back, that’s what they want. They want the future. They don’t want to leave a legacy of liability for their family with high debt. They want to leave a legacy of prosperity. They see continuing to get the markets back and grow those markets is what they want to do, and I get it. I grew up hard-working on the farm and that’s what farmers like to do: get up early, stay late, get the job done, and they want to earn a fair profit to do that.

BFIA: So you don’t see the impact, you see a different picture. What you see is the guarantee by the administration not having the desired effect because people want their markets back, people want to do the work, get paid for the work. Did I get that right?

GREENFIELD: Yes they do. But I’ll tell you what, the situation we’re in: bankruptcy rates are at an eight year high right now. It’s personal for me. When my parents had to sell the crop-dusting business, their hogs, and get out of farming, I went to auctions where families’ contents of the farm were put in boxes on hay racks and auctioned off for a buck or two, and no farm family should have to go through that again. Particularly when we can make a difference. That’s where I’m at.

BFIA: How did you decide to get into politics?

GREENFIELD: That’s a great question. I grew up in a little town, Bricelyn, Minnesota, right on the Minnesota/Iowa border. My parents were DFLers Democratic Farm Labor members. My Mom was the one who always marched in parades, went to county meetings, we door knocked. We didn’t phone call back then though because we had a party line… no robo calling. So it’s always been in my blood to be active in a certain way.

But then I got busy raising a family. I had some hope-stubbing experiences for sure. As my kids got a little older I was able to spent more time phone calling, door knocking. I’ve been a little active.

Remember I spent about 14 years working in community planning at the local legislative level — so planning commissions, neighborhoods, city council meetings, all of that. I saw potholes that needed to be fixed and filled — they aren’t Republican or Democratic — there was a problem that needed to be solved communities come together to do that. I’ll tell you I just decided we need some new leaders.

People talk to me all the time about wanting to end the divisiveness in Washington. We do it by making decisions like we do in our home towns, you know, where we come together. So it’s motivated me.

I really got into this race for hard work and family. I carry their struggles, their heart, and their effort to earn a living wage and provide for their families and have their American dream. For me it comes from being widowed at the age of 24. My first husband was a lineman for the power company. He was an IBEW member… we’re a union family. I will always stand tall with the unions. That’s for sure. They built the middle class and I don’t forget why my lights come on and who delivers my mail. I know those are union jobs.

When Rod died of a work place accident and I became a single mom — a 13-month old and another one on the way — I wouldn’t be here today without Social Security Survivor Benefits and hard-earned union benefits. I didn’t get here by myself. I certainly had family and friends and my home town and community.

Today people are struggling. They need leaders that know and appreciate what hard-working families are going through. That’s not what Senator Ernst does. She stands up and goes in line with her large corporate donors and leaves Iowans behind. So I got in the race.

She also talks about wanting to privatize Social Security and cut Medicare and Medicaid. The current Republican budget is very hard on those programs. I’ll tell you what. I wouldn’t be here without them. So this feisty farm girl, I’m getting in the fight.

BFIA: What were the lessons learned from your race in Iowa’s Third District?

GREENFIELD: What I already knew, but it became clear to me with the campaign for congress, is that there is a moral element to leadership. Voters and Iowans they want leaders who will do it right and they won’t look away from what’s wrong and they won’t put their own political gains first. And that’s what I did. When my campaign manager came to me a told me he had forged signatures on my petitions to be on the ballot I knew what the right thing was to do and we did it. I didn’t get a chance to be on the ballot at the end of the day but I can hold my head high and live in my community and respect and uphold our Democracy and election system. You continue to learn, and doing what is right is always right.

BFIA: Why does your experience best qualify you to win the primary?

GREENFIELD: Well it’s a combination of experience. It’s also a combination of doing the work and being able to build the team. Nobody wins by themselves; I say that every time I’m asked. I am running to do a job which is to represent people. When you bring them into my campaign with me and listen to them, that’s how we’re going to win. We have built an incredibly strong team in house but then have earned the endorsement of many, many of our unions AFSCME, IBEW, and others representing 65,000 union members in the state. We earned the endorsement and partnership of so many elected leaders around the state, including Christie Vilsack, Sally Pederson, Congressman Loebsack, and Congresswoman Finkenauer.

What I’ve done is really kept my head down and focused on building that team. I do it by going out and telling my story. Because I think Iowans want to vote for somebody, they want to see themselves in that person. They want to trust that you’ll do the right thing for them. May not always agree on a policy decision, but they know my character and they know my integrity, and they’re going to vote accordingly. We’re going to go out and compete in every county, in every precinct for every vote.

BFIA: If you lose the primary or the general would you consider a run against Senator Grassley if he runs again?

GREENFIELD: Oh boy! I haven’t even thought about that. Here’s what I can tell you though. If I lose the primary I will do everything I can to get our candidate elected.

(Editor’s note: The interview covered additional issues, including Greenfield’s approach to the climate crisis, auditing the Pentagon, foreign policy, and the 2020 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Conference. For more information about Greenfield’s views on issues, click here).

Categories
Politics

Into New Political Space

2012 OFA door hanger

Two new people, one man and one woman, decided to represent Big Grove Township on the county Democratic central committee. I’m thankful and moving on to new engagement in society beyond politics.

The presidential selection process this cycle was tainted by a bad finish. The caucus results reporting system failed. This weekend the Iowa Democratic Party is re-canvassing some of the caucus results twelve days after the event. It is a futile effort because we know the result. We had many great candidates and a few clinkers. The number of candidates continuing to March 3 Super Tuesday has been winnowed, and for the most part the best survived Iowa. There are really only four who seem viable: Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Today’s re-canvassing won’t change that.

Big Grove Township went Obama – Obama – Trump during the last three general election cycles. In the caucuses those years, we advanced Clinton, Edwards and Obama in 2008; Obama in 2012; and Clinton, O’Malley and Sanders in 2016. This year we advanced Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Warren with Klobuchar and Warren each having 39 people, Buttigieg 35, and Biden 29, with everyone getting a single delegate to the county convention. Sanders was not viable here, his support from 2016 was cut roughly in half.

The best comparison in presidential campaigns is between 2008 and 2020. Both years we had a significant field of candidates with an unpopular president. We came out of 2004 with a new understanding of how to run a campaign thanks to the ground-breaking work of Howard Dean and his campaign manager Joe Trippi. Dean wasn’t viable in our precinct caucus that year but the lessons stuck, particularly around fund raising, use of databases to target specific voters, and what they called open source campaigning — using the internet to expand a campaign’s voter base. Trippi wrote about his campaign innovations in his underappreciated book The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything.

The campaign techniques pioneered by Trippi in 2003 and 2004 were consolidated, refined, and advanced by David Plouffe who managed Barack Obama’s successful campaign. In The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama’s Historic Win, Plouffe details the process which included integrating diverse databases to micro-target potential voters. He re-booted how traditional door knocking was done, changing from the knock every house process my father followed during the 1960 John F. Kennedy election to a specific and highly targeted list of potential voters. The results showed it worked in 2008, less so by Obama’s re-election campaign when locals were feeling some buyer’s remorse.

Beginning in 2016, with wide adoption of social media, campaigns changed again and produced an environment where media personality Donald J. Trump thrived. Hillary Clinton had a strong background in policy development and relationships with key figures in the Democratic Party. She also had a vast donor network from her family’s long history in American politics. It turned out those things didn’t matter as much, and in retrospect, she had those advantages in 2008 and Obama was able to catch up and pass her. Trump won the election in the electoral college, which is the win that mattered.

In 2020 campaigning changed again. I focused my work on assuming responsibility for running our caucus for the first time since my neighbor who was previously caucus chair moved out of the precinct. I canvassed fewer voters this cycle than I had since 2008 and 2016. The presence of a large field of candidates and my understanding of and maturity in the precinct led me to believe door knocking was not as important. The solid turnout at caucus validated my belief, or maybe confirmed my bias.

The lack of a clear winner in the Iowa caucus is evidence of a breakup of Democratic support. Campaigns bought access to the party voter database and those who used it mailed campaign literature, phoned me, or knocked on our door. Not only has the electorate been divided by repeated computer profile targeting such as I experienced, the campaign process supported more candidates being viable beyond the precinct than in previous cycles. This had two tangible effects: it made the Iowa caucuses less relevant by advancing five candidates, (Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders and Warren) and it created division that needs mending for the electorate to join together long enough to support the nominee at the Democratic National Convention, at least through the general election.

As we turn toward November, what is the role for someone like me? I see these things:

  • I’m done with targeted voter lists. There is a bad assumption that there is not enough time to contact everyone, so the list of targets is reduced. We have to contact everyone we can about this election because winning it will not be based on party affiliation, but on person to person contact. We must change our thinking as some candidates already did this cycle.
  • If we elect a Democratic president, the work is only a third done. Democrats must retain control of the U.S. House of Representatives and flip the U.S. Senate to Democratic control. In Big Grove precinct this means getting people to participate in the process and turn out for the June 2 primary. I favor Rita Hart for congress in Iowa’s second district and the best of five Democratic U.S. Senate candidates. There will be more work to be done on this front.
  • As a writer I have a platform, and I will use it to promote Democratic and progressive causes. Here I mean Blog for Iowa which gets better traffic than this space.
  • I’ll volunteer with the county party, especially after the national convention when we expect to have a full slate of candidates.
  • I’ll donate what I can to favored candidates. It seems unlikely I’ll hit the federal maximums.

The election of two neighbors to the central committee is a positive development for me. It frees me to think differently about our future and to put politics on a lower shelf in the pantry. That may be the best outcome of the 2020 Iowa caucuses.

Categories
Politics Social Commentary

Stars and Stripes For a While

Photo Credit – Wikimedia Commons

Defense Secretary Mark Esper wants to end federal funding for Stars and Stripes and re-purpose the $15.5 million to support the “Warfighter.”

Whatever.

When I worked for a logistics company we used the word “Warfighter.” It seemed a synonym for an ATM to me.

Esper’s reasoning is a joke because those funds represent 0.002 percent of the Defense Department budget. Elimination of federal funding represents about half of the news organization’s annual budget, according to Stars and Stripes.

One has to believe Stars and Stripes’ Congressionally mandated editorial independence from the Defense Department is the unspoken problem under the current commander in chief. Esper is a former Heritage Foundation chief of staff and Heritage is the lead agency in implementing movement conservatism in our government. It’s not hard to connect the dots.

I suggest defense money be diverted from development of new nuclear weapons we don’t need to maintain financial solvency of a newspaper first published during the Civil War. Stars and Stripes has been in continuous publication since World War II.

I ask politicians to audit the Pentagon as a first step toward fiscal accountability. I keep asking. If the president can gin up billions in defense budget excess to build the Mexican border wall, there is surely $15.5 million for an independent newspaper to be found in some boondoggle project.

Stars and Stripes was not a big deal to me when I served. We could buy it at the Post Exchange and received free copies only irregularly — mostly when we were on extended maneuvers in the Fulda Gap. If I wanted news, I listened to Armed Forces Radio, or walked down the hill from my quarters to the Mainz main railway station to buy France Soir, Le Monde, or the International Herald Tribune. Of those, only Le Monde survives in print edition today.

Esper’s military service occurred after mine and to be honest, I don’t know the role Stars and Stripes plays in military life today. Our military has access to the internet, and to some extent are able to access information like I can from my Iowa writing table. Our information infrastructure changes constantly, and Stars and Stripes should not be insulated from change.

If Stars and Stripes is a piece of nostalgia, I agree it should be tossed in the bin of history, something the proposed budget cut will ensure. The issue is the squelching of independent voices in our government. The relentless and systematic purging of differing opinions is a problem for us all.

We know the tune, but it is changing to Stars and Stripes Forever For a While under this administration.

~ A version of this post appeared in the Feb. 20, 2020 Solon Economist

Categories
Politics

Can Michael Franken Beat Joni Ernst?

Michael Franken

I’d just secured the last part of my barter share from a local CSA — a large bag of heads of garlic. I put seven or eight of them into a lunch bag and headed along Highway One toward Iowa City to meet with U.S. Senate candidate Michael Franken.

Franken is running for the Democratic nomination in the June 2 primary. He has a plan.

He believes he can address three key aspects of incumbent Senator Joni Ernst’s appeal: (1) He was raised in rural western Iowa and said, “We were as rural as they get.” (2) As a general grade officer he has a different kind of military experience from Ernst. (3) He had plenty of experience in castrating hogs during his farm upbringing, and worked a stint in a slaughterhouse. He believes these three things address Ernst’s popularity and provide him a good chance to win in the general election.

On Feb. 8, I had my third conversation with the retired Navy Vice Admiral at a coffee shop near Interstate 80. The first two were the result of his fundraising call time. The third was on assignment for Blog for Iowa. I presented the bag of garlic as a gift and began the interview.

Franken returned to Sioux City in 2017 after serving a distinguished naval career. His last assignment was as Deputy Director of Military Operations for the United States Africa Command. If one names a significant military action since 9-11, Franken was most likely involved. His work included military operations in Libya, Mogadishu, Somalia, and combating pirates near the Horn of Africa. Unlike Ernst, Franken has a diverse portfolio of command experience, the gold standard of military service.

Of the primary candidates in the race, Franken has the longest resume of experience working on legislation in the Congress. In 1996 his legislative work began with an assignment as legislative affairs for Senator Ted Kennedy. It continued in between other assignments, totaling ten years in legislative affairs, with his most recent assignment finishing in 2015. He believes his work as a legislative assistant gives him a sound foothold to get things done for Iowans should he succeed in the primary and defeat Joni Ernst.

The unique story about his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War was highlighted in his announcement video which can be found here.

According to Open Secrets, the campaign has raised a total of $333,719, spent $208,934, and has cash on hand of $124,784 as of Dec. 31, 2019.

BFIA: Name two or three of the major naval operations in which you participated.

FRANKEN: I’m very unique in terms of after 9-11 I only served operationally in the Navy one time. The rest of the times were all joint. Due to my exposure early on, due to my relationships developed mostly in Washington, D.C., and at U.S Central Command, and U.S. Pacific Command, I was acceptable replacement for often-times Army officers, U.S. Seals, Marines, etc. There have been eleven, as I recall, named operations since 9-11. I participated in nine of them.

BFIA: Why Iowa after military service?

FRANKEN: As you get more senior in life you’ve got options. What was reasonably apparent was I’ve worked for every president and been in the military since the Carter administration. I just didn’t care as a three-star going back to Washington D.C. with the expectation that I would have a position that close to the administration. I just didn’t want to do that. My prerogative after 36 years of active service.

I requested to retire and (it was) granted by the Trump administration. I came back to a consulting business in Washington D.C. (Chartwell Strategic Advisors, LLC.) where my wife and I owned a home. We have a special needs daughter whose treatment happens in Washington.

When it got to be after the 2018 election I wanted to ensure that the Democratic party had someone who negated the items which got Joni Ernst elected so that it was a level playing field for an aspirant in the Democratic Party. When I saw that not unfold to my liking, I gathered a team together, submitted my nominating papers, and embarked on a run to represent the State of Iowa as best I can.

BFIA: Why does your experience best qualify you to be the Democratic nominee?

FRANKEN: The prime objective is Joni Ernst rode three horses to her candidacy, a. the ruralness, b. the military, and c. the pig thing. So first of all ruralness.

BFIA: Have you ever castrated a hog?

FRANKEN: Hell yes! I can castrate a hog with my eyes shut. I worked three years in a hog-kill plant — stick pen, rendering, chitterlings table, head table, floor… four months, 2,500 hogs a day. I can do it with my eyes shut. Thank you very much young lady I know the difference between the curly end and the snouty end.

My father planted a machine shop. The nearest town was Hudson, S.D. He did it specifically so there would be a long distance between him and any city for implement repair. We got running water in our bathroom just a couple of years before I was born. I’m the youngest of nine.

I mean, I know how to make soap. We had home made soap. We all knew how to sew. We butchered animals in the back. I mean we were as rural as they get… Don’t tell me about Iowa values… piling in the station wagon all of us to go to church on Sunday morning. When I took a bath the water was the color of tea and was tepid because I was last. I’m pretty rural. All those rural homonyms, I got you on that.

BFIA: Ours is a progressive blog. What is your message to our readers?

FRANKEN: Job number one is to congeal around a presidential candidate who can win in the general election against President Trump. Step number one. When the party, when the machinations happen and we congeal around a candidate, fall in, build up your voting base, get those, convince those who are on the fence that four more years of this will not be beneficial to the State of Iowa. All they need to do to see whether I’m right about that is to look in the rear view mirror.

Ask some basic questions. From a national security perspective are you more assured of your future? Is the sanctity of the family farm better? Is education better? Is health care better? I’m sure your stock portfolio is better but how many people does that pertain to? Tell me if you like the national discourse that’s presently going on. Do you think it’s going to improve? Step number one, do that.

I’m that guy that talks about sacrifice. If you are 85 percent for candidate such and such, and 95 percent for something and you’ve got your nose bent out of line because the guy or woman got 85, then frankly be happy that we have such great candidates that you even can choose from more than one. If you look at the cast of characters from 2016, the Republicans weren’t so blessed. Yahoos versus professionals. Let’s march forward.

Step number two. We need to control the senate from the Supreme Court designation to controlling the unhelpful tendencies of a potential second term. First and foremost we need to control the senate.

When you march forward to the general election and you look at the primary. Look at the primary in terms of ties, not who is nice, who they know, who they think would be fine. “Fine” is a bad word. Who’s going to win? Don’t think in four letters think in three letters, “win.” Who can beat Joni Ernst? Who can sit toe to toe, debate her, expose her voting record, pick it apart, corral a national effort behind the person to beat her.

She will have all of the strength of the Republican party behind her. Money will be no object for the Republicans to maintain that seat. You need to win her on the essence of the discussion. You need to punish her in every debate. She needs to whimper in the corner because she’s been supporting special interests in this state, at the behest of special interests and corporate greed, and been hammering the citizens of this state into the rich soil.

If you can’t choose which candidate is that, can do that, then let’s have a debate among the Democratic candidates well before the primary. in every county we can. I’m game. I sign up.

~ Editor’s note: The garlic presented to the campaign was appreciated as some were experiencing cold symptoms. Admiral Franken posted his garlic cold treatment the next day. During the interview he provided responses to addressing the climate crisis, the national debt and the deficit. Any errors in transcription belong to the author. His campaign website is frankenforiowa.org/about.

Michael Franken’s Cold Treatment